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We are delighted to report a substantial shift in practice, starting in 2013, with 9.7 million fewer prescriptions in the past year than would have been expected at pre-2013 trends.
- Dr Ben Goldacre, University of Oxford

A new study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy suggests that providing more information about how doctors prescribe drugs could reduce problems associated with overprescription.

In 2016 the National Health Service described the resistance to antibiotics as "one of the most significant threats to patients' safety worldwide." Antibiotics are often the go-to prescription for many primary care cases, but researchers estimate that as much as 23% of these prescriptions could be inappropriate. Higher antibiotic consumption can lead to drugs becoming ineffective at combatting infections.

In 2013 the Chief Medical Officer for England presented a 5-year plan to combat this. One part of this plan is a publicly funded service creating a website that provides doctors with prescribing data by practice and by month.

Five years on from the initiation of this strategy, researchers set out to determine if there was a measurable impact from the antimicrobial resistance strategy on overall antibiotic prescribing in England.

Researchers calculated the volume of antibiotic prescriptions using annual prescription data from 1998 to 2016, and monthly prescribing data from October 2010 to June 2018. After several years with a stable rate of antibiotic prescribing, there was a downward change after 2013. There was then a decrease of 14% in the number of antibiotic prescriptions between 2012 and 2017. This was against a background of increasing population size.

Though researchers cannot firmly attribute causality for the reduction in prescribing to the strategy, the researchers here believe that the magnitude and timing of the changes are noteworthy. The substantial change followed a long period of relatively static antibiotic prescribing.

"We are delighted to report a substantial shift in practice, starting in 2013, with 9.7 million fewer prescriptions in the past year than would have been expected at pre-2013 trends" said lead researcher Dr Ben Goldacre, Senior Clinical Research Fellow in the University of Oxford's DataLab, "however there is still much work to be done on disseminating best practice."

The researchers are funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Health Foundation.

Read more:

Chief Medical Officer Activity on Prescribing of Antibiotics in England - An Interrupted Time Series Analysis
Alex J Walker, Helen J Curtis, Ben Goldacre
Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, dky528, https://doi.org/10.1093/jac/dky528

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